Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Affect of Jugaad: Frugal Innovation and Postcolonial Practice in India's Mobile Phone Ecology

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

The Affect of Jugaad: Frugal Innovation and Postcolonial Practice in India's Mobile Phone Ecology

Article excerpt


Previous studies have identified affect as constitutive of and woven into everyday life. Less work has focused on how affect is designed and produced through consumer services and goods to modulate human--technical assemblages for commercial and economic ends. In this paper, I draw on social geography, affect studies, and postcolonial media studies to analyse value creation in the Indian mobile phone market, specifically in the deployment of an Indian form of workaround called 'jugaad'. Following nonrepresentational analyses of digital practices, I identify this market as a collection of human--technical assemblages that are marketed through a rhetoric of frugal innovation or jugaad. Moving through examples from fieldnotes, case studies, and reports, the analysis of the affective atmospheres of Indian mobile phone marketing communications appraises televised Bharti Airtel adverts. Findings of this analysis suggest affect has spatial, temporal, and economic dimensions, as well as being embedded in everyday experiences of a newly distributed subaltern agency.


Affect, India, innovation, postphenomenology, mobile phones, Airtel, advertising

Introduction: The improvisation and contingency of Jugaad

The event in the strong sense of the word is therefore always a surprise, something which takes possession of us in an unforeseen manner, without warning, and which brings us towards an unanticipated future. (Dastur, 2000: 182; qtd. in Ash (2010))

Jugaad innovators ... constantly employ flexible thinking and action in response to the seemingly insurmountable problems they face in their economies: they are constantly experimenting and improvising solutions for the obstacles they face, and adapting their strategies to new contingencies as they arise ... It demands that they think outside of the box, experiment, and improvise: they must either adapt or die. (Radjou et al., 2012: 86-87)

This paper articulates affect with the everyday practice of 'jugaad' or frugal innovation in India. From a marginal practice of subaltern communities (and marginal to the normal legal subject before the law) jugaad has become an important affective atmosphere ('a term that refers to the circulation of perturbations to produce space times local to technical objects', Ash, 2013: 20) in India's postliberalisation sensorium (i.e. roughly post-1991). Its extralegal connotations translated into 'disruptive innovation', jugaad is enthusiastically celebrated as frugal creativity in contemporary Indian management and marketing discourses and practices, as well as across the representational strategies of 'digital cool' circulated in the old and new media (Mankekar, 2015; Nayar, 2012; Sundaram, 2009). In everyday practice, jugaad is performed when conditions of work or life come up against obstacles. In this sense, the affect of jugaad is the capacity to move from a state of relative inaction or blockage to an improvisational encounter.

This analysis contributes to the ongoing conversation in postcolonial media studies and social geography across three areas. First, focusing on the ecological processes of the social practice of jugaad (work around) I show how its strategic deployment, production of timespaces, and digital media assemblages habituate heterogeneous populations in India towards innovation. Developing work in postphenomenology and nonrepresentational analyses (Ash, 2010, 2012a, 2012b, 2014; Clough and Halley, 2007; Mackenzie, 2001; Manning, 2013; Massumi, 2002, 2015; Thrift, 2007), I draw out what Ash (following Heidegger, 1962, 1977 and Stiegler, 1998) has called the technicity of affect. The social practice of jugaad allows human-technical assemblages to intervene specifically in the material contexts of (in)subordination through various forms of technology. Second, to understand both the event (Ash, 2010; Massumi, 2015) and the ecology of jugaad (Ash, 2014; Manning, 2013) together, I turn to an important concept in postcolonial criticism, that of translation, to understand how the affects of jugaad are translated as both habit and its modulation (Shamma, 2009). …

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